Hard Candy (David Slade, 2005)
An internet chat conversation opens Brit-born director David Slade's Hard Candy. The two anonymous chatters engage in various flirtatious discussions, leading on to an agreement that they meet in a local dessert place. Hayley (Ellen Page), fourteen-ish dorky looking little girl wearing a red hooded jacket, await her dashing date, Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a thirty-something professional photographer who is both suave and suspicious in his ways. Their initial meeting is pervaded with a feeling that something is not right. It's just not normal that an adult meet up with a teener over an internet chat conversation, and later on, discuss matters ranging from pop music to sexual innuendos.
The setup is awfully familiar. It reminded me (both visually and narrative-ly) of the fairy tale "The Little Red Riding Hood" where the wolf (often used as a metaphor for staling pedophiles) woo the crimson-clad girl to give off her freshly baked goods. The photographer wins the flirting battle and successfully brings home the innocent girl, and further engage in revelatory conversations. The film makes a surprising U-turn when predator becomes prey, and is suddenly victimized with various mental and physical tortures. Hayley unveils herself as a sort of vigilante defender of all those who have been victimized by various sex offenders.
Slade, who previously worked for MTVs and commercials, styles the film with loud colors backdropping the various conversations and acts that constitute the film. It's interesting to look at, and at times, it contributes to the overall emotional direction the film wants to take. Unlike other MTV directors-turned-feature film helmers who seem to have no patience when it comes to editing, Slade seems to have an idea that shots (especially those wherein he plays with colors and backdropping to dramatic effect) shouldn't outrightly be cut after a split second of exposure. Instead, he relishes in his compositions. But like most directors like him, he also have that ailment of using too much jarring camera movements especially in scenes wherein much action is involved. It's a confusing tactic that is unpleasant to the eyes at times.
Hard Candy's most difficult hurdle is that there's not a single character in the film that deserves a bit amount of sympathy. Moreover, the film's rather sensitive topic instantly dictates that sympathies cannot actually be dictated by the film's narrative, unlike let's say, other recent sadistic torture films (Hostel or Wolf Creek) wherein the victims (although ignoramuses and idiots) are all unwilling victims. Here, the victim is someone no one can really root for. In a way, there's a part of you that says that he indeed deserves everything that is done to him (especially the film's centerpiece punishment which most people would actually consider a just retribution to similar crimes). There's a void of pleasant emotions in the film, and in turn, makes the film a very negative and angry piece of work (with little sprinklings of sadistic and sarcastic humor). One might justifiably consider the film outright exploitation of what may seem a universal hatred for pedophilia, and in a way, Slade and writer Brian Nelson do exploit the Oprah Show-fueled anger against sex offenders to imply a sort of justification for the sadism and violence shown and implied onscreen. If it is exploitation, I really don't care much, because it's well-made exploitation.